By STEVE YAHN, who has written for and edited national publications for more than 30 years
If you name a website FunnySurgeryStories.com, you better be ready for controversy.
But your odds of success are considerably improved if you have 30 years of medical experience behind you.
So on St. Patrick's Day, into the Internet arena stepped 52-year-old Julie Ryan of Birmingham, Ala., with her website about funny operating room stories. All of them real, HIPAA-vetted stories, she claimed.
"People in surgery are really the unsung heroes in the medical world," said Ryan, a veteran of the hospital supply industry. "The amount of stress they work under is just phenomenal. And they relieve that stress with humor. Some of the funniest people I know are in surgery.
"With all the HIPAA regulations and the concerns about the social media stuff out there, they really can't talk about work and share their funny stories because they're afraid they're going to get fired."
Every operating-room employee tweet and Facebook posting is a potential lawsuit in the eyes of hospital legal departments.
So, Ryan created Funny Surgery Stories as a place where surgeons and other operating-room personnel can anonymously post their humorous stories.
"I take great pains to be sure we have HIPAA-compliant videos and stories up on the site," Ryan said. "I'm more well versed than most people on the subject, given my regular lecturing around the country on privacy and federal security and identity theft laws and HIPAA regulations. And we have two folks who work with us who help review for HIPAA compliance."
NOT SO FUNNY?
But Funny Surgery Stories has more than a few critics.
"Whether there's a name attached to it or not, you're putting out what is going to be perceived as a factual story, and whether or not they hide the surgeon's name or they hide the facility's name, you're putting up things which you don't have any accountability for," said a top executive at one of the largest hospital groups in the country.
"There are enough people who are afraid to go to doctors now," this executive added. "They're going to be even more scared when they start hearing stories like these that may or may not be true."
Another critic, an official at a major manufacturer and marketer of surgical equipment, weighed in with, "The videos appear to be staged and the general consensus here is that the site is in very poor taste. We felt the videos were childish and belittled the patient and that the stories, while presumably legal, violated a trust."
"The site seems to be intended for humor and levity," said a representative for a top patient safety and medical risk management organization. "But it does not give the appearance or hold itself out to be peer reviewed. So I would say it is much like the rest of the Internet: consumer beware."
SUPPORT ELSEWHERE, LIKE INSURANCE
Ryan, a lifelong entrepreneur who has launched 10 successful companies in various industries, has supporters in some important places.
Jerry Ippolito, owner and CEO of Naples, Fla.-based OR Efficiencies LLC, which offers healthcare consulting services, including surgery center consulting and operating room management, said, "You can only truly appreciate this humor if you've been in this business for 32 years like I have. You have to respect freedom of speech. I was with the chief of staff of a very major medical center not long ago, and we were looking at one of these cartoons. As a skilled physician and a highly accomplished business person, this doctor was laughing hysterically. You have to find amusement in this. It's funny."
And just in case, Ryan, who has patents on several surgical devices, said she has "a bunch of insurance" through a policy created for her by Jeff McCart of The McCart Group, in Duluth, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. She has media errors-and-omissions coverage through OneBeacon Insurance Co.
Those wanting to participate in FunnySurgeryStories.com can submit videos (for "OR Funnies") of themselves telling their funny operating room stories, placing them first on YouTube, from which they are then transferred to Ryan's company for HIPAA-compliance review.
Titles of some "OR Funnies" include "Emergency Room Rap," "Waking Up is Hard to Do," and "Monty Python--Gumby Goes to Surgery."
The most popular part of the site to date is "The Witless Protection Program," in which people can upload written stories for prizes. This feature currently is bringing in between four and five entries a day.
The third feature of the site, and one Ryan clearly relishes, is "As the Scalpel Slices," a weekly three-minute podcast that's like an old-fashioned radio soap opera based in an operating room.
To create a cast of characters for this feature, Ryan has hired two comedy writers, one who has written TV shows and movies, and the other who is a former writer for "Saturday Night Live."
May 26, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications